By Lyonel Doherty
Teaching arithmetic for 31 years is enough to make anyone’s head spin, so retirement is looking good for Barry Gruntman.
The accomplished athlete and math wizard leaves Southern Okanagan Secondary School after 20 years of teaching there.
While it may have been hard saying farewell to students and co-workers, it wasn’t nearly as challenging as taking his old desk out of the classroom. That thing weighs as much as a double-wide.
“I’m taking it home, but my wife doesn’t have a love for it,” he chuckled.
Gruntman proudly showed off the desk’s features since they served his father for many years before Barry took it over.
Where did the years go?
“For me, sitting in front of the kids, time flies.”
And during those years he saw his share of light bulbs turning on in their heads as they solved challenging math equations.
Yes, he did everything he could to make everyone’s “worst subject” interesting, but he didn’t oversell it or point fingers. That wasn’t his method to make the students get it.
In fact, Gruntman stopped checking homework years ago and left it up to his students to determine if they knew the material or not.
His students appreciated that he didn’t lecture them like so many other adults do.
“They don’t have to be good at math or analyze poetry (to get by in life), but they should know if the bank is ripping them off,” Gruntman said.
Well, it would be difficult for a bank to pull the wool over his discerning eyes, especially when he looks at numbers all day.
While teaching mathematics was his chosen career, it didn’t start out that way. He began studying computer science but found that to be rather tedious, so he pursued a math and physical education degree. That fit him quite nicely as he loved numbers and playing sports. He was a great baseball player and chased hockey pucks until the junior league. One year he was club champion at the Osoyoos Golf Club. He continues to stay in shape hitting golf balls and playing squash with Osoyoos Times editor Keith Lacey.
After his degree, Gruntman began teaching math in Vancouver, but he left that job and sold real estate for four years because he wanted to crunch some serious numbers.
One day his old principal called and convinced him to come back into the teaching world. But it was one student who made all the difference in his decision to stick with teaching.
Gruntman was assigned a Grade 10 class that “nobody wanted.” He recalled there were 10 students who were “annoying beyond belief.” (He almost felt like Sidney Poitier in the film To Sir With Love, where the students were undisciplined, to say the least.)
“I said I was done, but this one girl said ‘you can’t leave, you’re fantastic, you just don’t know that.’”
So Gruntman stayed and never looked back.
“Sometimes you’re too close to the blackboard and you don’t see (what’s going on around you).”
After talking to retiring teacher John Chapman from Oliver, Gruntman applied for a job at SOSS and got it.
There were many defining moments for him at this high school: one was allowing the students to write math equations on the windows. Another was hearing a graduate say, “I hate math less.” That was a big “win” for Gruntman.
The teacher said he was glad the students didn’t link him with the subject matter.
The educator reiterated that he didn’t try to sell math to his students. He told them, “Do what you like (with your life). Don’t do what your parents tell you.”
Tristan Duursma, a student at the school, said Gruntman was one of his favourite teachers.
“He can relate to you. He would come down to your level and push you to your limits. I liked that.”
But Duursma admitted that he didn’t take full advantage of what Gruntman was teaching.
“He never wanted to see homework. But not pushing to see homework made you push yourself,” Duursma said.
The young man stated he’s going to miss the talks he used to have with Gruntman after class. (Last week Duursma gave him a goodbye hug in the empty classroom.)
Gruntman admitted that he’s had enough of teaching because he’s fatigued.
“The paperwork, the work outside the classroom . . . I’m done with it.”
No more school bells, no more schedules to keep. What a life.
But now that he’s retired, the “scary part” is what to do during the day.
“I’m starting to do crossword puzzles,” he noted with a little zeal.